Summer is waning (which, for those of us in Florida, means another month of the most brutal humidity/temperature combinations known to man) and with it, any semblance of free time. Ergo, my days of tearing through new books like a blaster through a womprat are over. As I mentioned back in June, I rediscovered my local library and used it like the cheap, tax-fed grinder monkey it is to feed my need for new books. I covered Mira Grant’s Feed in that earlier post (I’m still desperately waiting for the release of Deadline) and Bacigalupi’s Pump Six and Other Stories, which is being re-released in paperback at some point in the near future; but what about the rest of the books I culled from the stacks?
First up was another by Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker. His first YA novel, it took elements of the post-apocalyptic society he started developing in Pump Six and The Windup Girl and brought it down to a much grittier, personal level. Don’t let the YA label fool you, this was a brutal, dirty work, where children are only valuable for as long as they can fit into the crawl-spaces of old oil tankers and strip them of their parts. Life is one long punch to the gut for the main character, Nailer, as he deals with life-threatening injuries, prostitution, drug addiction, class warfare…the list goes on. Some of the slavery messages are heavy-handed, and the showdown and ending were far too pat for me to be completely satisfied (feeling a bit like a concession to the YA label); but I still recommend it. Like Bacigalupi’s other works, the world he’s created is fully-realized and expertly rendered. If you’ve ever wondered what things will look like if they fall apart – this should be your first stop.
Next up in the reading list was Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I know I’m going to catch Hell for this (since some of you are big fans); but I absolutely hated this series. BUT! But, I hate with the passion of a Kindergartner pushing down his object of desire, running away, and denying any involvement whatsoever. I want to love the Hunger Games trilogy. The setup is redolent with potential; after a long, brutal, and, ultimately, failed war of secession, America’s (Earth’s?!) remaining humans have been separated into specialized districts and are kept at the ragged edge of poverty and starvation while they produce goods for the rich inhabitants of The Capitol (the “winners” in that aforementioned war). To keep everyone in line, the ruling government rounds up the children from all the Districts every year, pick a boy and a girl from each, and force them to fight to the death in an elaborate staged contest: The Hunger Games. It’s got everything I love – society unwinding itself like a broken watch, a touch of science gone awry, and a Twilight-esque love triangle where a young girl can never quite decide who it is she should make out with (which doesn’t matter because she feels like crap no matter who she picks). Yeah, one of these things is not like the other. As much as I loved the setting and the action (which was really sharply written), I ended up rage-quitting the second book in the series as Katniss and her eternal waffling over Peeta and Gale kept getting in the way of the societal meltdown that was happening all around her. Especially in Catching Fire, I felt that Collins was playing up Katniss’ adolescent indecision to artificially pump the “drama” quotient, rather than just trusting the already ample situational stress present to do that for the reader. Hunger Games, I really wanted to love you, but I’ll have to settle for loving to hate you instead.
There’s more, but I’ll save you from additional ranting for now. Next up, a giant squid, a bug-headed girl, and a bunch of superheroes walk into a bar…